saving the world's most endangered antelope
Promotes the conservation of the hirola antelope and its fragile habitat in partnership with communities in eastern Kenya.
Hirola are grassland specialist and require open habitat for survival. However, much of the hirola’s historical range occurred in semi-arid grasslands, which were inhabited by nomadic people and wildlife. However, colonial policies lead to a shift from nomadism to sedentary pastoralism by encouraging settlements around boreholes and other fixed infrastructure. A recent analysis of long-term satellite imagery across the hirola’s native range revealed a nearly 300% increase in tree cover in the last 27 years (Figure below).
The figure shows changes in tree cover across the hirola’s historic range from 1985 to 2012. Green represents tree cover and brown represents grasslands. The linear narrow band is the Tana River (the longest river in Kenya). Note the stark decrease in grassland between 1985 and 2012.
The increase in tree cover poses one of the greatest threats to survival of hirola through food limitation and predation risk. For instance, our study shows hirola perceive wooded areas as riskier than open spaces; if these trends are not reversed, the recovery of hirola will become insurmountable.
Our restoration effort aims at restoring grasslands in areas where hirola persist currently as well as future reintroduction sites through bush clearing, grass reseeding and fertilization, which we anticipate will have the knock-on benefit of improving local livelihoods. To restore grassland habitats, we are implementing the following practices: 1) the physical cutting, uprooting or breaking of branches in attempt to restore grassland at scales of hundreds of hectares in prioritized areas within the hirola range, 2) the planting of native grass seeds alongside fertilizer (manure) at scales of hundreds of hectares, 3) community-based protection of elephants (in the form of anti-poaching squads and enhanced communication between villages) to encourage elephant herds to reside on community lands. In addition to hirola, we suspect that a suite of other wild ungulates will benefit from these attempts to improve range.
The hirola conservation program is taking the lead in reinstating and restoring Arawale National reserve for hirola conservation in collaboration with Garissa County Government. The reserve was established in 1973 but operations were short lived due to misunderstanding between local communities and authorities. Consequently, the protection and management of the reserve was halted by late 1980s. Subsequently, hirola has experienced a 95% population decline and was listed as a Critically Endangered species in 1996. Until we started our work in 2012, Arawale lacked formal protection and management. Read about more about our work in Arawale here.